I am a gay man. Don’t let that confuse you; it’s by no means the ONLY aspect of my personality (like SOME people you may have met). In fact, many people I meet are actually surprised when I tell them. I’m an artist, a TOOL fan, and I can be quite the misogynist at times. From that description alone you can probably tell that I’m not really into “gay” films; they’re notorious for having one dimensional characters and a bubble gum plot that exists purely to plug sex into it. That’s why I was surprised when I found myself at Tower Records buying this film, and even more surprised when I actually LIKED it.
The plot is a fairly simple one; we watch our main protagonists Po-wing and Yiu-fai as they vacation in Buenos Ares and try to rebuild their shattered relationship. The fact that this couple is gay is actually very irrelevant, as it could just as easily be a lesbian or straight couple. Wong wants you to focus on the RELATIONSHIP, not necessarily the people in it.
How does he do that, you ask? Well, in hind sight it was actually a stroke of brilliance making the lead couple homosexual. So many problems in straight relationships are written off as a “girl thing” or a “guy thing”, when really, they’re traits that would be unacceptable from anyone, period. It’s as though by making this couple strictly male we’re supposed to believe that they should have no problems communicating. Men are traditionally strong, and logically minded, both of these people should be on the same page when it is VERY clear that they are NOT. Wong manages to pull back the veil, leaving the audience with a raw portrait of relationship mechanics.
Any psychologist worth his nuts will tell you that all relationships (plutonic or otherwise) have an uneven balance of give and take, with one party doing the bulk of the giving and the other, the bulk of the taking. This means the best that any of us can hope for is a 60/40 ratio (think about that and tell me it doesn’t depress you to the point of considering suicide). The relationship that this particular film deals with, however, is more like 80/20 - Po-wing is giving all he can while Yiu-fai is only giving back 20 percent of the time, and taking the rest (which is mirrored by his behavior, because he’s also a thief). No matter how much you love someone, a relationship THAT unbalanced can’t last, and the malady of it will probably linger on too.
An interesting change of pace comes about halfway through the movie when Chen Chang’s character (and I’m not joking) Chang is introduced. He works with Po as a chef and although it’s unclear if he’s really gay or not innuendo tells all the story necessary. He and Po even go out on a couple of occasions, which is a nice break from the decaying maelstrom that is Po and Yiu’s relationship. As it happens, of course, Chang and Po are forced apart when his failing relationship becomes too much to handle. The saddening thing about it is that Chang and Po have good chemistry and the audience is left wondering what might have been. I think that was Wong’s way of conveying a certain, incontrovertible truth; the fear of losing the comfort of routine will always go before an honest to goodness chance at happiness, it’s our inherent human phobia of taking risks.
For something that is often considered a “gay film” it manages to avoid many of the traditional clichés. There’s no hard emotional struggle to “come out” as it were. By the time the film opens it’s clear that Po and Yiu have already done so, and have , in fact, broken up and got back together several times. And although there are a few scenes where Yiu come home beaten and bloody, it’s always done off screen and presumably because of his thievery, not his sexuality. It’s also surprisingly light on sex. There is one scene in the opening, but it’s done very tactfully and is hardly what I would consider gratuitous.
Man I’ve rambled on forever about the plot and hardly told you anything about the direction. Kar Wai Wong is one of china’s best, and it certainly shows here. The lush colors, exotic backgrounds and his camera-on-a-monkeys-back cinematography make for interesting, eye-popping visual experience. But what’s important here are the actors and the story; both spinning a fantastic, tye-dyed tale of love, heartache and eventually, hope.
Kar Wai Wong has mentioned how the title Happy Together not only refers to relationships, but how a man interacts with his past. If you can look back on a seemingly terrible time; a tumultuous relationship, and know that you did all you could, and in that have done nothing wrong, you can be happy together; you and what’s past. Maybe that’s what we need to do sometimes, when you catch yourself thinking evil thoughts about a former fling, think instead about the good time, and while you have your good mojo goin’, wish them the best; out loud so you can hear it. People are people, and some people just aren’t compatible, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the best out of life. Because Mr. Lennon said it-all you need is love.